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“…the power to produce tears when listened to in the right setting”

- David Bowie


18 JUNE 2021 (TORONTO, ON) - The prolific and pioneering Max Richter is set to premiere the 33-minute Exiles, alongside expansive re-imaginings of tracks from Virginia Woolf-inspired ballet, Fendi fashion runways, Hollywood blockbusters, Golden Globe-winning documentaries, and a record loved by David Bowie.


Exiles began in hope with the Arab Spring ten years ago, and continues today with the plight of millions seeking refuge far from home. Like humans around the world, the revered European composer and activist was profoundly moved by the tragedy of the “migrant crisis”. He chose to channel his compassion into a piece for Nederlands Dans Theater. His ballet score Exiles grew from a conversation with the Dutch company’s resident choreographers Sol León and Paul Lightfoot.


“Composing is a way to talk about the things I care about, so when Paul and Sol asked me to write a new ballet for them I immediately began to think about subject matter; what exactly should a new work made in Europe in 2017 talk about?” recalls Richter. “Reflecting on contemporary society, I decided to make a work on the universal subject of journeys … Many of us are lucky enough to be able to influence where we are going, but for an increasing number there are very few choices: the physical journey is a necessity in order for the journey forward through time to continue at all.”


The world premiere recording of Richter’s 33-minute composition crowns his latest album for Deutsche Grammophon, scheduled for international release on August 6th 2021. Also comprising brand-new orchestral versions of some of his best-known earlier works, Exiles was recorded in Tallinn in 2019 by Kristjan Järvi and the Baltic Sea Philharmonic, an orchestra that prides itself on fostering cross-border unity and artistic innovation.


Max said, “The Baltic Sea Philharmonic is a really interesting orchestra, it’s of young players from all the nations around the Baltic Sea so that obviously includes former Western European countries, former Eastern European countries, so it’s a little bit of a social project. It has this ‘peacemaking’ function, people being able to talk to each other in a creative way. It struck me that it would be nice to have that orchestra play music that matched that theme.”


Three of the newly orchestrated tracks are, like Exiles, what Richter refers to as “activist music”. On the Nature of Daylight, arguably his most famous composition, began life in 2003 as part of his second album, The Blue Notebooks, a heartfelt and emotional response to the outbreak of the Iraq War. On the Nature of Daylight has inspired artists of all disciplines and has been used in films and TV shows including Arrival, The Handmaid’s Tale and Shutter Island, but Max will only allow it to be used in the right context.


These recordings are new trips through existing material mostly and they are large orchestral versions of chamber music, smaller formation recordings. Max said, “On the Nature of Daylight was originally 5 strings and now it’s over 65 strings so it has a different texture, a different energy, a different kind of sonic fingerprint. The orchestral version is a different emotional register, it’s a bigger canvas. In the quintet you really feel that someone is speaking quietly just to you, but with the orchestra it’s a broader dialogue.”


The Haunted Ocean is a hypnotic work from the soundtrack score to Waltz with Bashir (2008), which deals with writer and director Ari Folman’s traumatic recollections of his military service during the 1982 Lebanon War; and Infra 5, originally for five strings, is a mantra-like meditation on the July 2005 terrorist bombings in London. Sunlight, meanwhile, is one of Richter’s favourite works, from his 2006 album Songs from Before (one of David Bowie’s favourite albums), and its yearning quality sings out in the new orchestral version.


Exiles opens with the previously unreleased Flowers of Herself from Woolf Works, which was heard earlier this year soundtracking the likes of Kate Moss and Demi Moore at Fendi’s S/S21 couture show in Paris. Inspired by the portrait of a bustling London at the start of Mrs Dalloway, this rhythmically complex piece is all about constant movement and acts as an effective mirror to the title work – the light to its shade. Exiles itself is notable for its repeated melodic motif, “It’s a very simple idea,” explains Richter, “but I wanted to put this notion of exile, of walking, of movement, into the heart of the music in a technical sense as well as metaphorical.” His score evokes a journey through a soundscape of subtle textures and tonal colours, growing in intensity and gaining momentum as it unfolds, before concluding with a quiet coda. As he notes, “Exiles ends on a question: ‘What if…?’ That question is far from settled.”


Art for art’s sake is not for Richter. Music, he says, plays an intrinsic role in culture. “It’s part of the conversation about how we should live. That’s what creativity is. When you make something, you’re trying to explore a question, or look at some aspect of our world and comment on it, or elicit thinking or debate. It’s like Nina Simone said: ‘An artist’s duty … is to reflect the times.’”


The composer has done just that throughout his career, conveying thought-provoking messages in music of depth and beauty, and garnering praise for both aspects. The recent Voices (2020), for example, a work inspired by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and co-created with Richter’s long-term artistic partner Yulia Mahr, was hailed by one reviewer not only for “its velvety shimmer, post-Glassian circling phrases, and paradisal vocals”, but also for employing music “as a forum for activism, spreading sentiments of unity, tolerance and compassion” (PopMatters).


Mahr is the artist behind the poignant Exiles cover image created from her painting “Maman, 1950” (Yulia Mahr, 2017), a print of which is included with the limited clear-vinyl edition of the album, which will also be available digitally, on CD and on 180g black vinyl. Three e-singles are set to prepare the way for its release: a short edit of Exiles (June 18th), Sunlight (July 9th) and Infra 5 (July 23rd).



  2. INFRA 5 (INFRA)